Don’t Blame It On The Burka

Don’t Blame It On The Burka

At Scottish Women’s Aid we regularly see domestic abuse blamed on a lot of things: football, alcohol, hot weather, cold weather, long evenings and, of course we can’t forget, short evenings. Now? Burkas.

And as we see people piling on to be outraged at the wearing of the burka because ‘it hides the bruises from abusers’, there are some things that we, as Scotland’s leading domestic abuse organisation, want to clear up.

So here’s 6 things to remember if you are thinking of taking to Twitter to take part in this conversation:

Domestic abuse is an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour that can – but does not always – include physical violence. Reducing domestic abuse to bruises ignores the majority of women’s experiences and prevents women from seeking support.

Abusive men telling women what to wear is something we hear about A LOT from survivors. Abusers regularly control their partners’ clothes, movements,  access to food, drink, contraception, friends, family, employment, healthcare, money… the list goes on. The common denominator here is not the type of clothing victim-survivors are told to wear (be it shorts, jeans, shirts, shoes or a burka) but the abuse of power by the perpetrator.

Most abusers are pretty smart. Domestic abuse is not a loss of control but an exercise of control.  When abusers do leave bruises, they rarely are somewhere visible, no matter what the victim is wearing.

The idea that religious clothing is somehow facilitating domestic abuse conveniently ignores the fact that domestic abuse is happening in every single community across Scotland and beyond. Abuse is perpetrated and experienced by people of all faiths and none, in rural and urban areas, by people who love football and people who hate it, in the heat and the cold, the winter and the summer. The biggest risk factor and the thing most likely to increase your chances of experiencing domestic abuse is being a woman. This is about gender, not headwear.

This is a question of choice. We firmly believe that no woman should be forced to do or wear anything that she does not want to.  Those who claim that the Government should force women not to wear the burka in the name of freedom are hypocrites. What an irony it is that those who claim they want to liberate women from the control of others plan to do so by imposing their own idea of what women should wear.

When Islamophobia and racism surge in our communities, all those with a voice and a platform must stand in solidarity with those targeted. The tactics abusive men use to perpetrate domestic abuse do vary based on community, on family patterns, on cultural pressures, on all kinds of personal circumstances. These same circumstances influence women’s perceptions of whether they will get the right response if they seek help. Blaming domestic abuse on burkas does nothing to support women who are experiencing domestic abuse and nothing to hold abusive men to account for their behaviour.

This is a conversation so often aimed at Muslim women, women who are so consistently silenced by racism and sexism in our society, which means that those with the greatest expertise are consistently denied a voice and a platform. This has to change.

If you are a Muslim woman who wants to write about this topic or about any issue related to domestic abuse, we’d love to talk with you about doing a guest blog and having your piece featured on our website and social media. Please get in touch!

p.s If you want to read more from Muslim women on faith, feminism, race and sexuality you can preorder It’s Not About The Burka from Amazon here.

It’s Not About the Burqa doesn’t claim to speak for a faith or a group of people, because it’s time the world realized that Muslim women are not a monolith. It’s time the world listened to them.”

Guest Blog: Never Vera Blue

Guest Blog: Never Vera Blue

Futures Theatre are proud to be partnering with Scottish Women’s Aid to bring their new production Never Vera Blue to the 2018 Edinburgh Festival.

The play is the second commission from Futures creative engagement programme An Alternative Life which we delivered from 2015 to 2017.  During 2016 we worked in partnership the Gaia Centre (run by Refuge) in Lambeth, London, engaging with a phenomenal group of women who were all survivors of domestic abuse. We invited top female artists to deliver short courses throughout the year which resulted in the group writing a song and poetry, recording a podcast and making a short film. We recognised the vital work of front line services and wanted to use our resources to add value to their work; An Alternative Life allowed women to grow in confidence and develop skills in order to live full lives. We passionately believe in the value of working creatively with women who have experienced trauma:

“Creative work is a really safe way of trying out, taking risks and realising what you can and can’t do and just waking up all those bits of the brain that have been all cramped up” – Participant, 2016.

Playwright Alexandra Wood was commissioned to work with the group throughout the year and write a play informed and inspired by their stories and experiences. Never Vera Blue is an extraordinary response and wrestles with the question which angered and frustrated our participants ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ Alexandra wrote a multi layered script which interrogates this question with empathy and understanding. We invited women participating to come on the journey of this production with us; from initial readings of the script to rehearsals to full production. We were joined by women for a London preview at Camden People’s Theatre which was a particularly moving evening. The following day one of the women emailed to talk about the experience:

“What an amazing play!!! The actress is outstanding. Thank you for believing in me, my confidence has grown and going back to work has helped me to thrive in my ability to recognise who I am further.” – Participant, 2018.

Audiences joining us during the festival in The Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall can expect an incredible performance from Laura Dos Santos who plays ‘The Woman’ in this one woman show. The resilience, humour and strength of the women we worked with burns bright at the heart of the story. Upon leaving, they will hear the voices of those women in the song they wrote and recorded with Martyna Baker in 2016:

Cause I’m ready to just be me

And I’m ready to live happy

Yeah I’m steady cause I’m lovin’ me”

 

Never Vera Blue is showing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival until the 26th of August. For more information or to book tickets visit the website here.

No, Domestic Abuse Does Not Increase By 38% When England Lose The World Cup

No, Domestic Abuse Does Not Increase By 38% When England Lose The World Cup

It doesn’t rise by 26% when they win either. In short, the outcome of the game has very little impact on whether or not domestic abuse is happening across the UK. Because it is happening. It is happening in every single community, World Cup or no World Cup.  But the vast majority of people it is happening to never call the police, for lots of reasons. So whilst the World Cup might see an increase of reports, primarily of physical violence to the police, this is very different to an increase in domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is not a one off incident that is reported to the Police. And critically, domestic abuse is not just physical violence. It is an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour. It’s being cut off from friends and family, being told you are worthless, ugly and good for nothing and it is doing exactly as he says because you are scared of what might happen if you don’t.

Domestic abuse is treading on eggshells because you don’t know whether you’ve done something wrong – or broken one of his many unspoken and made up rules – but the truth is you can’t do anything right. Because it’s not about you or your actions, but him and his power. It’s about the power he has and uses over you and the power society gives him.

To be very clear: someone who is capable of/likely to physically assault their partner during or after a football game is capable of/likely to physically assault their partner at any time.

And for as long as we blame football, alcohol, faith, poverty or drugs for domestic abuse, we’re not holding anything or anyone to account in any meaningful way. The one to blame, the person responsible for abusing their power and their partner is the perpetrator, and all eyes should be on them.

When the team hangs up their strip and flies home from Russia there’s no risk of local domestic abuse services closing down because of a lack of demand.

In fact, research shows that the demand for specialist services is greater than ever, with over 50% of Women’s Aid groups in Scotland experiencing a greater demand for their services and an additional 45% reporting that demand remains consistently high with previous years.

No, when the World Cup is over, domestic abuse will continue.

That is why as the tournament kicks off we have one ask: support your team but go a step further – find your local Women’s Aid group and show them your support all year round.

At Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline we won’t put pressure on you, or tell you what to do. We know it isn’t always easy to pick up the phone. When you call the helpline, your call will be answered by fully trained call handlers who have lots of experience supporting people affected by domestic abuse and forced marriage.

You don’t need to know what to say, just know that we believe you, and we are here for you.

Call: 0800 027 1234 | Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk | Website: www.sdafmh.org.uk

An Open Letter To My Abusive Ex And Father Of My Child

An Open Letter To My Abusive Ex And Father Of My Child

Northern Irish writer Beau Marshall has written a painfully honest open letter to her ex and the father of her child. We are incredibly grateful to her that she has given us permission to share it here in full. Please read with care. (stock image © Laura Dodsworth)

You pretended to be my friend.

You literally took a wrecking ball to my life. When I look back, I realise you knew exactly what you were doing. You pretended to be my friend to lure me into a false sense of security. When I was at a point in my life that all I could see was darkness you gave me a fake glimmer of light. You were my shoulder to cry on. I trusted you with my deepest secret and you used it to abuse me.

When I look back I see you so differently. And I see myself so differently too. I was in pain. I hated myself and you pretended to love me. In a short period of time I felt like I would never cope without you. You made me believe this too.

Instead of helping me through my dark time you used it to chip away at me. In every single way. You made me feel ugly inside and out. You told me I was useless. You told me I was stupid. You told me nobody else would ever want me. You made me believe this.

Somebody that loves you will build you up, not knock you down.

I lost who I was. I was your version of me. The version you needed me to be so you could control and manipulate me.

I got so ill I couldn’t see a way forward. I had nowhere to turn and you knew how much I was hurting. You then pretended to be surprised, pretended to be unaware of my pain and again fooled me into thinking it was all my fault and that you were the good guy who was my rock. You just added this experience to the list of things you would use against me and abuse me with.

At times I wished you would lift your fist to me. I used to think bruises on the flesh would heal faster than the wounds you put on my heart and soul. But none of it would ever be acceptable.

I tried to get away from you. I did things to try and make sure we could never get back together. But you always got to me and I always ended up back there. Time after time.

Nobody could understand how I kept getting back with you. How could they possibly understand, they didn’t understand the extent of the damage you had done. My spirit was broken.

You had this way of always making me believe what you said. When you called me names and made me feel worthless I listened to it. I believed all of it. When you’d later say sorry for the things you did I listened to that too. I was so caught up in the cycle of abuse I couldn’t see reality anymore.

I stopped telling my friends and family anything that went on. I was too ashamed. I had no idea what was normal anymore.

Then I found out I was expecting a baby with you. I was overcome with emotions. I’d always wanted to be a mother. I believed you when you told me it would all be OK. If it had been up to you I wouldn’t be OK now.

The birth of our son gave me the ability to find a strength that was buried deep down inside me. I had to change for him and for me. And he had to have his best chance. I never wanted to be a single mother but it was for the best. You lost your power over me the day I became a mother but it didn’t stop you trying to control me. You tried many different angles. Verbal, emotional, financial abuse and even blackmail. Our son quickly became a pawn in your sick games.

Even when you had moved on and met the girl you would marry you still spent time and energy trying to destroy me.

The only thing you destroyed was the relationship with your son. He should have idolised you but he feared you. At 6 years old he could see you for the bully you are. I never bad mouthed you. In fact I made excuse after excuse for you hoping out little boy would hurt less.

You broke my spirit but worst of all you hurt our innocent child. I hope the child you’ve gone on to have since never experiences the pain I’ve seen your ability to cause.

I stayed single for years, not because nobody wanted me as you liked me to believe but because I was cleaning up your mess. I was being Mum and Dad, I was trying to heal myself from your years of abuse and I was working really hard to provide a beautiful life for our son. Everything he has is down to me. Your last bit of control you thought you had over me was financial and to be brutally honest you’re welcome to keep your money. We do great without your help.

And now that I’ve met someone that I may find the time and the faith to have some feelings for I continue to battle the demons you left me with. I’ve healed as much as I can. I’ve worked hard to heal. And still there are some days I have to remind myself that he is not you and it’s OK to let love in…

At Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline we won’t put pressure on you, or tell you what to do. We know it isn’t always easy to pick up the phone. When you call the helpline, your call will be answered by fully trained call handlers who have lots of experience supporting people affected by domestic abuse and forced marriage.

You don’t need to know what to say, just know that we believe you, and we are here for you.

Call: 0800 027 1234 | Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk | Website: www.sdafmh.org.uk

 

What Does Abortion Have To Do With Domestic Abuse, Anyway?

What Does Abortion Have To Do With Domestic Abuse, Anyway?

Never in the history of ever have rights been dished out on a plate to groups facing discrimination. Not once has someone with heaps of power entirely of their own volition thought: hey my privilege is spilling over a bit, you want some?

As we celebrate the suffrage movement and 100 years since some women won the right to vote, we have to remember that the fight for women’s rights and freedom is far from over. We also have to be mindful that the right thing isn’t always easy – in fact more often than not it’s damn hard – but when the chips are down where do you stand, and who do you stand with?

We stand with the women of Northern Ireland, just as we stand with those in Ireland, Poland and anywhere that women are denied their reproductive rights.

We stand with those forced to travel alone, tired and scared to a country that is not their home to access basic healthcare, and we stand with those finding illegal pills online and taking them in secret. We stand with those forced to carry, birth and raise a child against their will because despite it being 2018 their Government still does not trust them enough to honour their human rights and afford them basic control over their own bodies.

Our bodies, our choices is a longstanding mantra of the feminist movement and of those fighting for women’s access to free, safe and legal abortion, because that’s what this comes down to. Choice. If you don’t like abortion then fine, don’t have one. But no-one, no-one has the right to make that decision for anyone else.

You might ask what does this have to do with domestic abuse?

The answer is everything. Because for as long as abusive men have been coercing and controlling the lives and minds of their victims they have also been controlling their bodies. Women experiencing domestic abuse are routinely pressured to become pregnant, abusive men will sabotage birth-control, use condoms inconsistently and issue threats related to continuing or ending a pregnancy. It doesn’t stop there. Rape in the context of domestic abuse sees women who have experienced significant trauma impregnated, isolated and trapped.

There is no best case scenario that can undo such trauma, but the very, very least any woman in this situation should know is that if she can to get to her doctor, alone, seeking an abortion that the doctor’s response will be trauma-informed and person-centred and that the doctor will offer access to a free, safe and legal termination and all the support needed. That our Northern Irish sisters who want to end a pregnancy in situations not dissimilar to this instead face a prison sentence is unthinkable, and yet it is so.

In Scotland our situation is far from perfect, and we will continue to use all our collective might to remove abortion law from the criminal justice system and put the issue firmly where it belongs as a matter of health.

But we will also stand with and fight for those whose rights are being routinely and seriously violated elsewhere and we ask that you join us.

Tweet your MP and ask that they attend Westminster tonight to stand up for the rights of Northern Irish women.

Exciting News! What Being Charity of the Year Finalists Means To Us ❤

Exciting News! What Being Charity of the Year Finalists Means To Us ❤

We’re absolutely thrilled to be finalists for SCVO’s Charity of the Year! For us this is a celebration not just of our work now, but that of the workers, volunteers, survivors and supporters across the Women’s Aid network in Scotland for more than 40 years.

It has been an extraordinary year for us at Scottish Women’s Aid. As we celebrated the rich history of Women’s Aid in Scotland through our Heritage Project, the fruits of 40 years of activism, work and determination were realised as Scotland’s pioneering Domestic Abuse Bill became an Act.

Though we are clear that there is much, much more to do, that Scotland has a world-leading new law that is rooted in and reflective of women, children and young people’s lived experience of domestic abuse is a triumph of Women’s Aid in Scotland.

But our work neither stopped nor started with the passage of the Bill; behind the scenes our staff have been busy as ever influencing policy, developing projects and pioneering initiatives so that women, children and young people can live free from fear and domestic abuse.

In partnership with the Children’s Commissioner our work on Power Up / Power Down – a participation project focused on court-ordered contact for children in the context of domestic abuse – has gone from strength to strength. Drawing on their lived experience to advocate for change, the children and young people became effective children’s rights champions, delivering their calls for change directly to the First Minister and other powerful influencers.

This past year also saw the launch of one thousand words our exciting project in partnership with Zero Tolerance which changed media representations of domestic abuse. Alongside survivors and photographer Laura Dodsworth, we created a whole new set of images for the media to illustrate domestic abuse, moving away from narrow stereotypes of women with bruised faces to reflect the emotional, sexual, financial and coercive elements of abuse. For victim-survivors to recognize their experience and seek support they must see themselves represented and to see the images being used so widely by Scottish media is incredible.

In our national office we’ve coordinated a first-of-its-kind domestic-abuse competent employability project, and it’s fair to say that women involved in Building Equality have thrived. Through the project and with the support of local women’s aid workers, participants who previously experienced multiple barriers to financial independence have gone on to set up their own business, been accepted to college and entered the labour market.

This is just a snippet of the work we do, which is almost always varied, challenging, exciting and at times difficult. It’s hard at times to reflect on success when we live in the knowledge that women, children and young people across Scotland right now are trapped and living in fear, but it is right that we celebrate the milestones and the thousands of women who have worked so hard to transform Scotland.

For this reason we are so excited to have been shortlisted as finalists for Charity of the Year, and in even more good news you can also vote for us in the People’s Choice award! It is tough competition, but an honour to be nominated and regardless of the result we are proud to be celebrating the efforts of all those women who have brought us this far.

 

We still have a very long way to go, but this is the closest we’ve ever been.

EXIT SITE NOW.